It Takes the Right Village: Why choosing an employer is key to your executive suite career success

November 16, 2017

A Conversation Club: Expert Insights event with Anna Green, Partner and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Georgette Nicholas, CEO and Managing Director, Genworth Mortgage Insurance Australia:

The second of four “In conversation” articles from two of Australia’s pre-eminent businesswomen.


Do Australian companies in general really understand how to keep women in the management pipeline?

Anna: For our (BCG’s) report What’s Working to Drive Gender Diversity in Leadership (we) did interviews with around 20 Australian companies; globally around 200 companies. And we wanted to understand: “Do you actually have a clear perspective of what, with all of the money, time and effort that you spend on gender diversity, what actually makes a difference?”

What we found was that most companies approach the topic with great attention. They probably, like us in many ways, were doing things like reading a HBR (Harvard Business Review) article about what you need to do about gender diversity and say, “Yes we’ve got that,” or “we are doing that,” or “we are not so we are going to have to introduce it.”

But in terms of really applying the rigour and discipline that companies would apply to any other big change programmes: “How much are we investing? What are the milestones? How do we track it? How do we know if it is improving?” We found that very few companies actually have that level of discipline on gender diversity (programmes).

If you are not measuring it, if you don’t have the clarity as to what you are doing, it is very hard to assess how effective your actions are.

A few other findings I will share:
In terms of how men and women see the challenge of gender diversity and the progress, we found two key things.

1. Men consistently underestimated the degree of challenge that women in their organisation felt, and in some cases, up to 40 per cent difference in opinion of how good their company was in supporting women. And how effective their gender programme was.

2. We found that men talk about recruitment as the most critical issue to get right. But women talked about that as one of many (and) that retention and advancing in a firm was much more important than recruitment, in terms of advancing within a firm. And in this case, the data almost always supported the women’s perspective in that companies were getting women in the door and that most companies were working well with universities but they were not bringing them along the journey. The important thing about this is that it is very difficult to plan an effective programme if people don’t have a clear and aligned vision of what the starting point is. Whilst perhaps, people feel that it is just a different perspective, when actually, you need men and women to be crafting and investing money, and resources in a programme and have an aligned view.


How does a company assess the impact of their gender diversity spending?

Anna: I can say for the 20 companies we interviewed in Australia – the likes of top 20 ASX firms, when they looked at progress of gender diversity, none of them could say: “We invest x in recruiting, y in retention, z in training and development, and we understand what each does in terms of impact.”


The BCG report gave strong directives of what companies can do to keep women in the career pipeline. How did the 20 companies who participated in the research embrace your findings?

Anna: Really well. Most of them asked us to come and speak to either their board or their management team. One of the strongest findings was when talking about the different perspectives of men and women,  that women who said that men who were actively engaged in their gender diversity programme of their organisation felt that it was much more successful.


Genworth has targets of 40 percent of women in management. How is this going for you?

Georgette: We have around 43 per cent.


“You’ve done this not by hoping but through strategy. So can you talk us through that?”

Georgette: Anna has said that you need to have targets. And you have to measure against those targets, not quotas. Targets are something different and you need to make that distinction. We may not always be at 43 per cent, but we will continue to measure the progression of our managers. We are lucky as we happen to have a female CEO and I sit on the board so that helps our numbers. But we won’t always probably have that. So for us, it is important to focus on the middle manager group and how we are addressing that. We have to keep measuring that and we have more work to do there.

I think the viewpoint is that it has to be about “the whole organisation,” so one of the things that we have been working on is making sure that we are investing in, not only in our women but also in educating our men about flexible ways of working – about parental leave, how they also manage people who have gone out on leave and come back.


And do you run that in-house or do you use external consultants?

Georgette: We run it in-house.


Did you bring that from the US or is it is something that you’ve done locally?

Georgette: I think it started in the US. We were part of a global company that was headquartered in the US. We listed in the ASX in May of 2014, so now we are on a stand-alone basis. But we brought some of those policies here to Australia. We also broadened it based on what is happening here in Australia. So again, to be forward looking, you need to look at what does your workforce need, how do we think about where they are headed, and what they need in the future to work, and how they want to work.

Incorporating things like technology, how people work flexibly, thinking about education and benefits, who you are giving leave to and how you are distributing that across the organisation and how you train managers.


You mentioned you wanted to bring about a diversity of thought and opinion. So how do you do that? Is it a policy, is it a culture?

Georgette: It is about culture. It is about encouraging an environment where it is embraced or celebrated. Many times, we like people who are the same, react the same and have the same style. So how do you embrace that? We are still on a journey. But it’s about understanding the impact that it can have. When we see that diversity of thought and experience that comes to the table, we make a lot better business decisions and have a bigger impact on the business. Celebrating that, reinforcing that and providing that transparency is what we are doing. I think it is about the culture and that translates into policy.


Do you recruit new staff using agencies, which may bring their own biases regarding which applicants to put forward?

Georgette: For senior roles we tend to go outside. We use LinkedIn a lot. We use our own networks. One of the things we say to our teams is not to accept the status quo. If using agencies is all that you are doing, then I think that you are going to be challenged to find the right fit for your organisation.


So the gatekeeper in HR is vital to ensure that they company culture is walking the walk?

Georgette: Absolutely.

Anna: BCG is looking at removing names off CVs to understand if we have any other inherit biases – gender or other biases, cultural or other.


Can you tell us about the unconscious bias training that many Australian companies are doing as part of their gender and diversity programmes?

Anna: What doesn’t work is one off unconscious bias training. Training people’s behaviour takes a lot more than a two-hour session, which will be fascinating but won’t make real change. Perhaps just a tweak of behaviour. Research shows it has to be more ongoing training and support, and checking: “Are we living what we are saying? Is there a bias in feedback that we give? What are the processes in your business that matter to someone’s career? How can you intercept and check those processes to make sure that you are not bringing unconscious bias with you?”


How does a firm develop that skillset?

Anna: Understanding the moments that matter in a person’s career: “How can we make sure that what we are doing at that point nurtures the ambition of women?”


As a listed company, do you think having women in management helps you communicate with your shareholders? And do you think having more women in management and on the board achieves better cut through with female investors, fund managers, analysts?

Georgette: I think that what we focus on is diversity of thought and background, and views and perspectives. Gender is a part of that. What we try to incorporate is other diversity aspects such as culture and experiences into our decision-making. So I do think bringing different perspectives makes better business decisions. I think that when you look at how we select board members, how we recruit, it is not necessarily about gender but it is about making sure that we have a diverse range of individuals and we are looking at that diversity of thought and continuing to do that from a board level all the way down through the organisation.

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